Skip booklet index and go to page content

Recovery Strategy for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.), Eastslope populations, in Canada

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.), Eastslope populations, in Canada.

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations

2012

List of tables

  • Table 1. Fish species that occur in Canada in the St. Mary River upstream of the St. Mary Dam and/or in the North Milk and Milk rivers, with ranges that overlap (Y) or do not overlap (N) with the Rocky Mountain Sculpin
  • Table 2. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from dam construction
  • Table 3. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from dam operation
  • Table 4. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from changes in flow
  • Table 5. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from Didymosphenia geminata
  • Table 6. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from intentional fish stocking
  • Table 7. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from unintentional species introductions
  • Table 8. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from point source pollution
  • Table 9. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from non-point source pollution
  • Table 10. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from scientific sampling
  • Table 11. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from climate change
  • Table 12. Threat to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin from drought
  • Table 13. Recovery objectives, the strategies to address them, and their anticipated effects
  • Table 14. General description of essential functions, features and attributes of critical habitat for each life stage of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin
  • Table 15. Schedule of Studies to identify or refine Critical Habitat
  • Table 16. Examples of activities likely to result in the destruction of critical habitat for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin

List of figures

  • Figure 1. Location of the Milk and St. Mary river watersheds in Alberta
  • Figure 2. Rocky Mountain Sculpin (photo credit D. Watkinson, DFO, Winnipeg)
  • Figure 3. Alberta distribution of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin showing key habitat features. Distribution records are from the ASRD Fisheries and Wildlife Management Information System as of May 2010
  • Figure 4. Rocky Mountain Sculpin on gravel substrate (photo credit T. Clayton, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Lethbridge)
  • Figure 5. Critical habitat for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin in Alberta

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA spell out both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

A proposed recovery strategy must be posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry within one year after the wildlife species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk for endangered species and within two years for threatened species. A period of three to four years, respectively, was permitted for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

One or more action plans will be developed to identify specific actions to be undertaken, thereby advancing the implementation of the recovery strategy. Directions set in the recovery strategy, however, are sufficient to begin involving land managers and users, communities, and stakeholders in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry.

Recommended citation:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2012. Recovery strategy for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.), Eastslope populations, in Canada [Final]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. ix + 57 p.

For copies of the recovery strategy, or for additional information on species at risk, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related documents, see the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration:

Doug Watkinson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Winnipeg.

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement du chabot des montagnes Rocheuses (Cottus sp.) (populations du versant est) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2012. All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-1-100-21042-1
Cat. no. En3-4/150-2012E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

Preface

The Rocky Mountain Sculpin is a freshwater fish and is under the responsibility of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered, and Threatened species. The Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, was listed as threatened under SARA in August 2006.The development of this recovery strategy was co-led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Central and Arctic Region and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, in cooperation and consultation with many individuals, organizations and government agencies, including:

  • Province of Alberta – Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD) and Alberta Environment (AENV).
  • Milk River Rancher’s Association;
  • Milk River Watershed Council of Canada;
  • Southern Alberta Environmental Group;
  • Blood Tribe;
  • Counties of Warner, Cardston, and Forty Mile;
  • The Villages of Coutts and Warner; and the Town of Milk River.

Also refer to Appendix B for a full record of public consultations. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41).

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada or any other party alone. This strategy provides advice to jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved or wish to become involved in the recovery of the species. In the spirit of the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, and Canadian society as a whole.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new information. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will report on progress within five years.

This strategy will be complemented by one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of the species. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians interested in or affected by these measures will be consulted.


Partner jurisdictions

Under the Species at Risk Act, the responsible jurisdiction for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin is Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Government of Alberta (Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Environment) cooperated in the production of this recovery strategy.


Authours / Contributors

The Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, Recovery Strategy was developed by the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, Recovery Team, comprised of the following individuals:

Roy Audet
Milk River Ranchers’ Association.

Michael Bryski
Aquatic Biologist, Water Management Operations, Alberta Environment.

Terry Clayton (Co-chair)
Fish Biologist, Fish and Wildlife Division, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

Warren Cunningham
Councilor for the County of Warner and member of the Milk River Watershed Council of Canada.

Lori Goater
Southern Alberta Environmental Group.

Ken Miller
Milk River Watershed Council of Canada.

Shane Petry (Co-chair)
Species at Risk Biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Central and Arctic Region.

Richard Quinlan
Provincial Species at Risk Specialist, Fish and Wildlife Division, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

Bruce Stewart (Secretariat)
Arctic Biological Consultants, Winnipeg, MB.

Douglas Watkinson
Research Biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Central and Arctic Region.

Acknowledgements

The Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, Recovery Team extends its sincere appreciation to the many organizations that supported the development of this recovery strategy and to their representatives who contributed their knowledge and hard work. This report was compiled by D.B. Stewart of Arctic Biological Consultants (Winnipeg, MB) and by S. Pollard (currently with BC Ministry of the Environment), who at different times acted as secretariat to the Recovery Team. Prior to their retirements, Fred Hnytka of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Co-chaired the Recovery Team and Emma Hulit represented the counties of Cardston, Forty Mile, and Warner, the Villages of Coutts and Warner, and the Town of Milk River. They made many worthwhile contributions to this strategy and their efforts are most appreciated. Funding to support Recovery Team meetings was provided by DFO and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD). Doug Watkinson of DFO in Winnipeg, MB and Terry Clayton of ASRD in Lethbridge kindly provided photographs of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin. The Recovery Team also benefited from the participation of Annabelle Crop Eared Wolf of the Blood Tribe at the first meeting. Shane Petry of DFO and Terry Clayton (ASRD) provided facilities for Recovery Team meetings in Lethbridge. Blair Watke of ASRD prepared the drainage basin maps. The Recovery Team would especially like to thank Don McPhail of the University of British Columbia, Dave Neely of the California Academy of Sciences, and Doug Watkinson for providing unpublished results from their work. Don Bell and Jeff Burrows of BC Environment generously provided sculpin samples for future genetic and age comparisons.


Strategic environmental assessment

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. The reader should refer to the following sections of the document in particular: Appendix A. Effects on the Environment and other Species and 6. Broad Strategies and Approaches to Recovery.

This recovery strategy describes a number of research, monitoring, management, regulatory, and public education approaches required for the conservation and recovery of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations. Aside from the acquisition of further knowledge, the recovery strategy focuses on eliminating or mitigating threats to the species including species introductions, habitat loss or degradation, and pollution. In addition, to generally improving environmental conditions, the reduction or elimination of these threats may benefit other co-occurring species (Appendix A). The recovery strategy also recommends rationalizing existing or proposed stocking programs in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds with potential impacts of any changes considered within that process.


Residence

The concept of residence and how it applies to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin is discussed later in this plan. Further information as well as residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.

Executive summary

In August 2006, the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.), Eastslope populations, in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds of Alberta were officially listed as “Threatened” under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Under SARA a recovery strategy is required within two years of listing for threatened species. In December 2007, the species was similarly listed under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, which also requires the completion of a recovery plan within two years.

The Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, Recovery Team (the Recovery Team) was formed in 2006 to expand on earlier work by the Milk River Fish Species Recovery Team, which initiated studies of Milk River watershed populations of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin. Ultimately, the Recovery Team was tasked with developing a recovery strategy that would consider both the St. Mary and Milk river watershed populations, and satisfy both federal and provincial requirements. The team represented a broad range of conservation, regulatory and stakeholder interests, with membership from Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Alberta Sustainable Resource Development; Alberta Environment; the Milk River Watershed Council of Canada (MRWCC); the Southern Alberta Environmental Group; the Milk River Ranchers’ Association; the Counties of Cardston, Forty Mile and Warner; Villages of Coutts and Warner; and Town of Milk River.

While there is no evidence that populations of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin in Alberta have declined since the species was first identified there, this small, bottom-dwelling fish is deemed to be at risk due to its extremely limited range. Within Canada it only occurs in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds of Alberta, and in the Flathead River of British Columbia. Only the Alberta populations, which COSEWIC (2005) considered a single designatable unit, are considered here.

The goal and objectives of this recovery strategy are directed towards the conservation and maintenance of the existing Alberta populations. This recovery strategy describes the species and its needs, incorporates a threats assessment, and outlines a broad recovery approach for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin based on the available information. This recovery strategy goal is:

To protect and maintain self-sustaining populations of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin within its current range in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds in Canada”.

Key objectives of this recovery strategy are to:

  1. Quantify and maintain current population levels of Rocky Mountain Sculpin in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds (within the population’s range of natural variation), as determined from standardized surveys;
  2. Increase knowledge of the taxonomy, life history, basic biology, and habitat requirements of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin and;
  3. Increase our understanding of how human activities affect Rocky Mountain Sculpin survival, so that potential threats to the species can be avoided, eliminated, or mitigated.

To help achieve this goal and meet the objectives, four general approaches are proposed: 1) Research, 2) Monitoring, 3) Management and Regulatory Actions, and 4) Education and Outreach. Within each of these, a number of individual strategies are outlined that capture the range of tools available to protect and manage the species and to reduce or eliminate threats to its survival.


Recovery feasibility summary

The following criteria and analyses were used to evaluate the biological and technical feasibility of recovery for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations.

Reproductive Potential: There is currently no impediment to the reproductive potential of Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, in Canada. Viable populations exist in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds. The Rocky Mountain Sculpin is one of the most abundant fishes in the North Milk River, where the population may be supplemented by the downstream emigration of fish from the St. Mary River population in Montana.

Habitat Availability: The occurrence of viable populations documented over a number of years from St. Mary and Milk river watersheds suggests that there is adequate habitat to support all life stages of the species at these locations. Habitat availability is currently not limiting for maintaining the species.

Threat Mitigation: Most specific threats to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, (Section 4) are of low concern for fishery managers, either because they pose little threat or because little can be done to mitigate the threat. Flow alterations and dam construction and operations are of medium to high concern, but their impacts can be somewhat mitigated. At present, none of the threats identified are known to influence the species’ survival; the future impacts of climate change remain speculative. While future species introductions may have the potential to disrupt Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Sculpin populations, these impacts may be avoided by applying appropriate regulatory controls and management actions. The potential impact from most of the habitat related threats may also be reduced, or eliminated, if appropriate regulatory reviews and management actions are exercised, and best management practices are applied to existing or proposed projects.

There are viable populations within the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds in Canada and the United States. Conservation and threat mitigation efforts targeted at these populations should be able to secure and maintain their continued viability. The presence of these fish in two watersheds significantly reduces the potential for serious impacts at the population level. Threat mitigation may be complicated in some instances by the fact that Montana controls the flows diverted through the St. Mary Canal, subject to the provisions of the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and administration by the International Joint Commission (IJC). Changes in flow conditions could influence proposed conservation measures for the species and as such any recommended changes should be guided, at least in part, by this recovery strategy. Continued international cooperation on trans-boundary water management issues is crucial to the conservation of this species. Overall, the identified threats are not likely to impede the survival or recovery of the species. However, any improvement in our knowledge base for the species would improve our understanding of the potential impact of threats to it, and of the efficacy of any proposed mitigation measures.

Technical Capabilities: The techniques contemplated for the conservation of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations are well founded in current science and management practices. Given the relative abundance of the species within its limited distribution, the focus of recovery efforts should be on the mitigation of habitat impacts and the exclusion of unwanted species. The technical knowledge on how to deal with potential habitat impacts is well documented and generally applied. The avoidance of species introductions is best afforded through public education and management programs, both of which are entirely within the competence of the responsible jurisdictions. No impediments to the recovery of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations, have been identified by any of the responsible agencies.

Biological and Technical Feasibility: Given the above analysis, recovery, as defined by the recovery strategy goal, is deemed to be biologically and technically feasible for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Eastslope populations.


Figure 1. Location of the Milk and St. Mary river watersheds in Alberta.

Watershed map (see long description below).

Description of Figure 1

Figure 1 is a watershed map for the very southern part of the province of Alberta. The St Mary River originates in the United States and flows north by northeast into Alberta to just south of the City of Lethbridge. The Milk River also originates in the United States just east of the St Mary River and flows northeast into Alberta. The Milk River then flows east and the watershed widens as it approaches the Alberta Saskatchewan border. The river then flows southeast back into the United States


*Important notice and disclaimer: DFO does not assume any responsibility for the quality of information, products or services listed in the Web sites provided above. Users should also be aware that information from external sources is available only in the language in which it was provided.

Introduction